Sunday 17 September 2023

Yes. Italy.


Yes. Italy.

There, I said it. You are my witnesses.


Many of you know our story: that of a young Australian family with three school-aged children who went to France for a year, stayed for much longer than that, and brought France forever more into their hearts. There, we learned to live with passion and joy - savouring moments differently; appreciating tastes and sounds more intensely; developing new seasonal routines that somehow embraced flexibility; and resisting, before acknowledging, an unfamiliarity that ultimately became who we were.


Then we returned to Australia.

Please don’t be angry or judge me as I know that there is plenty of beauty in Australia too with daily opportunities for fulfilment, and a sweet and generous quality of life, but for me, that largely indefinable thing that fires my senses is elsewhere.


To backtrack a little, I went to France as a French speaker, a teacher of French with decades of language study behind me. It was still challenging but at least I had some certainty that I could get by in the language, and that that skill would facilitate my family’s integration.


I don’t speak Italian.

I am learning, though, and motivated to make fast progress. It helps that there are similarities both with French grammar and vocabulary. Not so, pronunciation. Will I, am I contorting the French language currently as a result of the incursion of a new sound system into my subconscious? ‘Fraid so. In minor ways. They still make me cringe.


My husband’s roots are Italian. He can sound Italian, after all his mother’s voice has been with him his whole life. But he doesn’t speak Italian. He grew up in an era when children of newly arrived Australian immigrants were ‘sheltered’ from the ‘inconvenience’ of having non-English-speaking parents. Mind you, no such restraint was practiced when preparing his pickle and salami school-lunchbox sandwiches. They succeeded in marking his difference just as effectively.

So, why not just return to France? Why Italy?


Growth, challenge, desire, anticipation …


Growth. I cannot exclaim proudly that we grew linearly as a result of our French living. Frequently, I shrank, struggled and hid, but something beautiful eventually came from periods of incomprehension and darkness.

Challenge. Our family adventure in France was filled with challenges. I expect that this new direction will provide even more but, perhaps obtusely, challenge drives us.

Desire. Does that even need an explanation?

Anticipation. Can we do this again? What awaits? Who will be a part of our journey? Do we know these people yet?

On a practical level, our Italian experience cannot be a duplicate of our French one. I have no easy European access as I did then. Brexit took that privilege away from me. So, amongst other constraints, we have time limitations. Plus, our children are no longer living with us, so we will not have the regularity of a school year and the immediacy of a school family to lean on. Plus, we don’t know where in Italy. A random opening of the Lonely Planet guidebook led us to Annecy. What will decide our destination this time?


There, I have put it out there. You are all my witnesses.


After all, if not soon, when?

Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.

The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.

Merci mille fois

But you are in France, Madame: One family, three children, five bags and the promise of adventure living in the French Alps

Weaving a French Life: An Australian story

Love, fear and a return to France: A family memoir

With bare feet and sandy toes: Growing up in Australia in the 1960s & 70s